The Taoshu Community was founded in 1986. Since then, it has transformed some 500 acres of forestland and cropland into tea fields. Of this figure, about half is collectivized through the cooperative and half is managed by private households. All households, however, participate in the cooperative. They process and market their tea together. Payment to member households from the cooperative happens twice – first, when they bring unprocessed tea to the “tea factory”, and again, when the income brought by tea sales is divided among member households on the basis of land ownership.
Above is a picture of the Taoshu Community 'marketing front'. This small farm stand is set up on the side of the winding mountain road outside their production household. As you might imagine, it doesn't see much traffic. Thus we are reminded what our friend Lewis (a son of some of the farmers in the community) said about Toashu: "我門懂做茶，不懂賣茶" (we understand how to make tea, but not how to sell tea).
Crop management and variety varies somewhat between the collectivized and private land. On the collectivized land, only a local, unspecified variety is cultivated. That variety has been grown there since the tea farm opened in the 1980s. On private plots farmers have begun to experiment with outside varietals such as Westlake Longjing, in addition to planting the local varietal. Irrigation is something that was tried and abandoned on the collectivized land in recent years but was never attempted on private plots.
This is a picture of one of the smaller personal lots of land. It belongs to our friend Lewis' parents, and all the tea harvested here is taken to the cooperative to be processed and sold with tea from the other lots. As you can see, there is a mix of agriculture going on here, pine trees and corn growing in the distance.
It is almost impossible to distinguish collectivized fields from private plots. Not only because there are no fences, but also because the entire cultivated area is pruned three times a year (winter, early spring, and often summer) and weeded once. This gives the tea fields a neat, uniform appearance. What is even more impressive is that their weeding, unlike on other farms, does not involve pesticides of any sort. That much is supported by the results of soil sampling that were officially performed by the government.
Here is a view from one of the main tea fields across the road from the production household. As you can see, the tea seems to stretch on and on over the curves of mountains, uninterrupted by fences or other means of division.
The full report of that soil sampling will be translated and uploaded in the months ahead.
Picking begins with the earliest buds in March and then ends by June. The pickers themselves are divided between cooperative members and workers hired from the outside. Although detailed wages were not offered, the general rule is that outside employees are paid half of what cooperative pickers receive. After being picked, tea is taken to the cooperative's single, central tea factory. There Xiang Dingshan (向丁山), who is accompanied in his work by a team of other co-op members, runs the tea through an array of tea machines.
All freshly harvested leaves are brought to the one processing household and processed by Xiang Dingshan
It’s also worth mentioning that rural land management in the area has been fixed for the next 20 years. This means that the division of land between private households can’t change during this period. One result of such a policy is that a number of young people have inherited the right to land they have no interest in farming. In order to maximize yield, the plants of non-farmer’s plots are managed and picked by other cooperative household members. And yet according to the Taoshu Community’s pay-out scheme, it is the absentee proprietor, not the picker, who will ultimately be paid a portion of the cooperative’s income on the basis of the land they did not farm.